Understanding Change In Thailand, Part II

Club member Dr. Ren Lexander, PhD, previously gave a presentation to the PCEC on understanding why Thailand is changing. In Part II, he expanded on his earlier talk mentioning some of the changes he has observed including birthrate among Thai women, household consumer debt with Thai belief in ghosts being a contributing factor, and the importance of water.

Club member Dr. Ren Lexander, PhD, gave a presentation on ‘Understanding Why Thailand is Changing So Much and So Quickly – Part II’ at the Sunday, January 5, 2020, meeting of the Pattaya City Expats Club (PCEC). He previously had given Part I at the PCEC meeting on December 8, 2019.


Ren focused initially on the rapidly declining birth rate in the country, speculating on its causes and effects. In 1970 for example, he noted the average birth rate per female in Thailand was 5.6 children. That dropped to 3.9 children in 1980 and is a startling 1.4 children in 2016 (most recent data). Ren pointed out that this represents an amazing 70% drop in the birth rate per female.

Dr. Ren Lexander shows a chart as he explains how surging consumer loans giving rise to household debt is one of the main factors for changes in Thailand.

So why the drop and what are the damages? Ren speculates that the desire to acquire more and or better things was being hampered by the cost of having and raising children. The solution being to have fewer kids. His argument to support this theory is the alarming rise in house hold debt. Showing a world chart of average household debt to Thailand’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the average Thai household debt to GDP has gone from 45% in 2005 to almost 80% in 2017. Thus, over 10% of an average Thai household’s net worth is debt. And of all the consumer goods looked at in various surveys, auto loan debt has risen exponentially in the last few years. His comment being why have a kid when you can drive an SUV?

The result of this trend, college rolls have almost emptied; thus, starting jobs are going unfilled or filled with those who are not qualified to do the work. With fewer children, there will also be fewer marriages, thus there will be even fewer children born in the future, a self-compounding equation.

MC Les Edmonds presents Dr. Ren Lexander with the PCEC’s Certificate of Appreciation and a special thanks for stepping in on short notice when the scheduled speaker, because of unforeseen circumstances, had to cancel.

Ren also discussed the impact of the strong belief in ghosts by Thais, their reality and effect. He noted that many Thais will not buy an existing house where someone was sure to have died or even a car a few years old with the same likelihood. Thus, they think they must have it “new” to assure that there are no ghosts attached. Since new houses, cars, etc. cost much more than old, this attitude lends itself to incurring more debt to acquire it.

Fat perception, of all things, is also changing in Thailand according to Ren. He mentioned that lots of foreigners, having enjoyed a rich abundance of food, roll into Thailand, to be kind, on the robust size. In the past this was understood by Thai ladies to be a sign of affluence and wealth. If you’re fat you eat well and if you eat well you must be rich. Ren said “sorry gents,” but this model is also changing; no more sexy man comments based on the measure of your bulk. Today, in Ren’s opinion, Thai ladies are looking for thinner leaner men. They must have health and/or golf club memberships, thus they must be wealthy.

Another changing item is availability of water which is important to Thai culture; especially needed to grow rice and fishing (Thai fishing fleet is the 6th largest in the world), and tourism through the attraction of many beaches. Cultural celebrations like Songkran also involve water as it is used in a purifying ritual throughout the country. However, in many locales, especially Pattaya, it has evolved into water blasting rather than the ritual of blessing.

Club member Roger Fox asks a question of Dr. Ren Lexander about a point he made in his presentation to the PCEC.

In summary, Ren pointed out that all things change. Some changes are beneficial. Some may not be. Maybe time will help to determine the difference. Thailand is changing and if you are a long-term resident, he thinks maybe the changes are so subtle that you may miss them.

After the presentation, the MC brought everyone up to date on the upcoming club events and others of interest. This was followed by the Open Forum where questions are asked and answered about Expat living in Thailand, especially Pattaya. For more information about the PCEC, visit their website at: www.pcec.club.

A summary of Part I of Ren’s talk about understanding changes in Thailand is available on Pattaya Mail at URL: https://www.pattayamail.com/latestnews/news/understanding-thailand-and-why-it-has-changed-so-much-so-quickly-280528. Also, a YouTube video of his December 8 presentation of Part I can be viewed at URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oKC_49B4AQM&t=157s